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Although their contributions are within the same perspective, in what ways is the theory of Spencer different from that of Comte?

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Topics: Sociology
Sociology can be defined as the study of the relationship between the individual and society systematically. Sociology focuses on how social relationships influence people’s attitudes and behaviours and how people are affected y social institutions. Social evolution is a theory that states that social traits are selected over time and gradually develop into behavioural or social norms. Auguste Comte and Herbert Spencer both had theories on social evolution which impact greatly upon Sociology as a social science.
Auguste Comte and Herbert Spencer were two of sociology’s first great theorists. Both Comte and Spencer studied society and the many ways in which people in society interact. Both theorists agree on certain issues pertaining to society and social science, yet they completely differ on their views of the function of sociology. Spencer and Comte both realize that there is an order of co-existence in society. Society itself is made up of several components and parts which are subject to change and progress, thus altering society as a whole with these changes.
Comte 's aim was to create a naturalistic science of society, which would both explain the past development of mankind and predict its future course. In addition to building a science capable of explaining the laws of motion that govern humanity over time, Comte attempted to formulate the conditions that account for social stability at any given historical moment. Comte taught that in order for man to transform his nonhuman environment to his advantage, he must know the laws that govern the natural world. In a like manner, social action beneficial to mankind will become possible once the laws of motion of human evolution are established, and the basis for social order and civic concord is identified.
As long as men believed that social actions followed no law and were, in fact, arbitrary and fortuitous, they could take no concerted action to remodel their lot. Under these circumstances men naturally clashed with one another in the pursuit of their differing individual interests. When this was the case, a Hobbesian model of society, in which only power and the willing acceptance of power permit order, seemed appropriate and plausible. Comte referred to this as “social dynamics” which is the study of the conditions and pre-conditions of social order.
Applying what he conceived to be a method of scientific comparison through time, Comte emerged with his central conception, The Law of Human Progress or The Law of Three Stages. Each of the leading conceptions, each branch of our knowledge, passes successively through three different theoretical conditions: the Theological or fictitious; the Metaphysical or abstract; and the Scientific or positive. Comte argued that the human mind, individual human beings, all knowledge, and world history develop through three successive stages. The theological stage is dominated by a search for the essential nature of things, and people come to believe that all phenomena are created and influenced by gods and supernatural forces. Monotheism is the ultimate belief of the theological stage. The metaphysical stage is a transitional stage in which mysterious, abstract forces replace supernatural forces as the powers that explain the workings of the world. The positivist stage is the last and highest stage in Comte 's work. In this stage, people search for invariant laws that govern all of the phenomena of the world. Although Comte focused mainly on stages in the development and progressive emancipation of the human mind, he stressed that these stages correlated with parallel stages in the development of social organization, of types of social order, of types of social units, and of the material conditions of human life. All these, he thought, evolved in similar manner as the changes in progressive mental developments.
In order to supplement his theory of stages, Comte set out to investigate the foundations of social stability. The statistical study of sociology consists in the investigation of the laws of action and reaction of the different parts of the social system apart, for the occasion, from the fundamental movement which is always gradually modifying them. It studies the balance of mutual relations of elements within a social whole. According to Comte, the family is the most elementary social unit and the prototypes of all other human associations, for these evolve from family and kinship groups. The collective organism is essentially composed of families, classes and castes and finally of cities and townships.
Although Comte conceived of society by analogy with a biological organism, he was aware of the difficulties that such analogical thinking brings in its wake. A biological organism is, so to speak, encased in a skin and hence has material boundaries. The body social, however, cannot be held together by physical means, but only by spiritual ties. Hence, Comte assigned central importance to language, and above all, religion. Language is the vessel in which the thought of preceding generations, the culture of our ancestors, is stored. Language binds us to our fellows and at the same time connects us to the long chain that links a living community to its remote ancestors. Without a common language men could never have attained solidarity and consensus; without this collective tool no social order is possible.
Comte believed that religion furnishes the unifying principle, the common ground without which individual differences would tear society apart. Religion permits men to overcome their egoistic propensities and to transcend themselves in the love of their fellow men. Religion is at the root of social order. It is indispensable for making legitimate the commands of government. Beyond language and religion, there is a third factor that links man to his fellows: the division of labor. Comte believed in principle that the division of labor, while it fostered the development of individual gifts and capacities, also contributed to human solidarity by creating in each individual a sense of his dependence on others. Yet at the same time, he was perturbed by what he considered certain negative aspects of the modern industrial division of labor. As a result, Comte expressed the fervent hope that in the future both temporal and spiritual power would unite to keep up the idea of the whole, and the feeling of the common interconnection.
To Comte, the study of social statics, that is, of the conditions and preconditions of social order, was inevitably linked to the study of social dynamics, which he equated with human progress and evolution. Comte always considered social institutions, whether language or religion or the division of labor, not so much in their own right as in terms of the contribution they make to the wider social order. To this extent, he must surely be regarded as one of the earliest functional analysts of society.
Spencer was at one with Comte in firmly believing in the operation of social laws, which are as deterministic as those governing nature. He believed that either society has laws, or it has not. If it has not, there can be no order, no certainty, no system in its phenomena. In contrast to Comte, who wanted to direct society through the spiritual power of his sociologist-priests, Spencer argued passionately that sociologists should convince the public that society must be free from the meddling of governments and reformers. The only power Spencer was willing to grant the state was protection of the rights of the individual and collective protection against outside enemies. A good society, in Spencer 's view, is based on contracts between individuals pursuing their respective interests. Whenever the state intervenes in these contractual arrangements, whether for reasons of social welfare or any other, it either distorts the social order or leads to a retrogression to early forms of tyrannical and militant social order.
Spencer’s view is grounded in the doctrine of the survival of the fittest, like Darwin. He argued that an excess of fertility stimulates greater activity because the more people there are, the more ingenuity is required to stay alive. The least intelligent groups and individuals die off; hence, the general level of intelligence is bound to rise gradually. Spencer argued that the general level of intelligence will rise to the extent that only those with superior intelligence survive in the battle for existence. But this beneficial evolutionary mechanism will be fatally upset, he contended, once governmental intervention in the form of poor laws or other measures of social welfare is allowed to distort the beneficial processes of natural selection. Once government intervenes, the beneficent processes that would naturally lead to man 's more efficient and more intelligent control over nature will be distorted and give rise to a reverse maleficent process that can only lead to the progressive deterioration of the human race.
Spencer did more than make superficial analogies between biological and social bodies, he proclaimed that sociology was to be the study of “superorganic” organisms, that is, relations among living organisms, and he included more than human organisms in this definitions. The sociological concept of progress was elevated by Spencer. The evolution of society involves increasing complexity of social structure and associate culture symbols, and this complexity increases the capacity of the human species to adapt and survive in its environment. Spencer argued, that the evolution of human societies, far from being different from other evolutionary phenomena, is but a special case of a universally applicable natural law. Sociology can become a science only when it is based on the idea of belief in a social order not conforming to natural law, survives.
Spencer 's general theory of social evolution involves the progress of society towards integration, heterogeneity, and definiteness. It also includes a fourth dimension, the increasing coherence of social groups. Social groups, according to Spencer, strive towards greater harmony and cooperation through the division of labour and the state. It is important to note the Spencer does not develop a linear theory of social evolution; he acknowledges that dissolution or no change at all may occur at any given moment. As society grows, it becomes more complex and differentiated. Structures accompany this growth, which function to regulate external concerns like military activities and sustain internal issues like economic activities. Distributing systems eventually emerge that function to help link together regulative and sustaining structures.
Spencer uses his evolutionary theory to trace the movement from simple to compounded societies and from militant to industrial societies. Society evolves from the compounding and decompounding of social groups. It also evolves from military societies dominated by conflict and a coercive regulative system to industrial societies characterized by harmony and a sustaining system of decentralized rule.
In conclusion, both Spencer and Comte believed that the universe is governed by understandable, invariable natural laws and that positive methods should be used exclusively without any metaphysical speculation. Spencer however disagreed with Comte on the idea that society passed through three distinct stages; that causality was less important than relations of affinity and that government can use sociology to intervene in society.
Spencer 's theory of society does represent an advance over Comte’s theory, even though Spencer, like Comte, characterized himself as a positivist and derived his concepts of structure and function from the field of biology. Spencer used Comte’s terms of social statics and social dynamics, but not in a descriptive way as Comte did to refer to all types of societies, but rather in a normative way to describe his version of the future ideal society. Furthermore, Spencer was more interested in studying the progress of the external world or objectivity, while Comte focused more on the subjective nature of the progress of human conceptions. Finally, there are important political differences between Spencer and Comte. Spencer had little regard for centralized political control and believed that the government should allow individuals the maximum freedom to pursue their private interests. Comte, on the other hand, desired society to be led by the high priests of positivistic religion.

References
Comte, Auguste. 1896. The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte.
Comte, Auguste. 1912. Systeme de Politque Positive. 4th ed.
Coser, Lewis A. 1977. Masters of Sociological Thought: Ideas in Historical and Social Context. 2d ed. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers.
Peel, J. D. Y. 1974. “Spencer and the Neo-evolutionists.“ Pp. 188-209 in Theories and Paradigms in Contemporary Sociology. Edited by R. Serge Denisfoff, Orel Callahan, and Mark H. Levine. Itasca, IL: F. E. Peacock Publishers, Incorporated.
Perdue, William D. 1986. Sociological Theory: Explanation, Paradigm, and Ideology. Palo Alto, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company.
Spencer, Herbert. [1850] 1888. Social Statics: or, the Condition Essential to Human Happiness Specified and the First of Them Developed. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.
Spencer, Herbert. [1873] 1961. The Study of Sociology. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
Spencer, Herbert. 1897. The Principles of Sociology, Part VIII.

References: Comte, Auguste. 1896. The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte. Comte, Auguste Coser, Lewis A. 1977. Masters of Sociological Thought: Ideas in Historical and Social Context. 2d ed Peel, J. D. Y. 1974. “Spencer and the Neo-evolutionists.“ Pp. 188-209 in Theories and Paradigms in Contemporary Sociology Spencer, Herbert. 1897. The Principles of Sociology, Part VIII.

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